If change is coming to the struggling Montreal Canadiens this season, it won’t be behind the bench.
General manager Marc Bergevin effectively put an end to lingering rumors that he might dismiss Michel Therrien, calling his head coach “a foxhole guy”
“It’s been a hard time for all of us, but I believe in Michel Therrien and his coaching staff,” Bergevin told reporters on Thursday. “Nobody is going anywhere. Michel knows he has to make the players better and he works at it every day. That’s what I love about Michel Therrien.”
He then added: “It’s on me … it’s on me.”
Which is true, of course. Therrien has driven half the team's fan base to drink with his line-juggling and curious usage of certain players. (Case in point: 37-year-old Andrei Markov is running on fumes but still averaging more than 22 minutes a night). But the real issues with this team are beyond his control.
Netminder non pareil Carey Price might have masked some of them, but Therrien hasn't been able to pencil the NHL's reigning MVP into his lineup since Nov. 25. The Canadiens have been a disaster since then, going 4-16-1, the NHL’s worst record over that stretch. It’s a tailspin that has turned a team with a seven-point grip on first place in the Atlantic Division into one that’s out of the playoff mix entirely.
And while it would have been nice if Mike Condon and Dustin Tokarski had mixed in a few extra saves along the way, the biggest issue for this team hasn’t even been the goaltending. It’s been goal scoring. The Habs are averaging just 1.89 per game over this stretch and it’s entirely possible that they’ll finish the season with Max Pacioretty as their only 20-goal scorer. Brendan Gallagher, their next best bet, is tracking for 23 but hasn’t scored in his last six games and doesn’t seem to be the same player since losing 17 games to a broken hand.
After them? Well, there’s just not that much.
Say this much for Therrien, though: He has them working hard. They’re getting pucks to the net, averaging 31.8 shots per game, fourth most in the league. But he can’t coach them to finish.
That problem is on Bergevin. He built this team. He owns it. And now the pressure’s on him to do something about it.
That might not happen anytime soon. Odds are he’ll wait to see how the team looks when Price returns, but with the keeper sidelined another three to four weeks, that won’t leave Bergevin much time to make improvements before the Feb. 29 trade deadline.
It will be a challenge, but he took a step in the right direction on Thursday.